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University of Toronto Scarborough
Deirdre Flynn

1984 is about totalitarianism. It is the totalitarian government is the one that tries of control every aspect of life; how English Notes 1984 by George Orwell Characters  Winston: The reader experiences the nightmarish world that Orwell envisions through the eyes of the protagonist, Winston. His personal tendency to resist the stifling of his individuality, and his intellectual ability to reason about his resistance, enables the reader to observe and understand the harsh oppression that the Party, Big Brother, and the Thought Police institute. Winston is extremely pensive and curious, desperate to understand how and why the Party exercises such absolute power in Oceania. Winston‘s long reflections give Orwell a chance to explore the novel‘s important themes, including language as mind control, psychological and physical intimidation and manipulation, and the importance of knowledge of the past. Apart from his thoughtful nature, Winston‘s main attributes are his rebelliousness and his fatalism. Winston hates the Party passionately and wants to test the limits of its power; he commits innumerable crimes throughout the novel, ranging from writing ―DOWN WITH BIG BROTHER‖ in his diary, to having an illegal love affair with Julia, to getting himself secretly indoctrinated into the anti-Party Brotherhood. The effort Winston puts into his attempt to achieve freedom and independence ultimately underscores the Party‘s devastating power. By the end of the novel, Winston‘s rebellion is revealed as playing into O‘Brien‘s campaign of physical and psychological torture, transforming Winston into a loyal subject of Big Brother.One reason for Winston‘s rebellion, and eventual downfall, is his sense of fatalism—his intense (though entirely justified) paranoia about the Party and his overriding belief that the Party will eventually catch and punish him. As soon as he writes ―DOWN WITH BIG BROTHER‖ in his diary, Winston is positive that the Thought Police will quickly capture him for committing a thoughtcrime. Thinking that he is helpless to evade his doom, Winston allows himself to take unnecessary risks, such as trusting O‘Brien and renting the room above Mr. Charrington‘s shop. Deep down, he knows that these risks will increase his chances of being caught by the Party; he even admits this to O‘Brien while in prison. But because he believes that he will be caught no matter what he does, he convinces himself that he must continue to rebel. Winston lives in a world in which legitimate optimism is an impossibility; lacking any real hope, he gives himself false hope, fully aware that he is doing so.  Julia - is Winston‘s lover and the only other person who Winston can be sure hates the Party and wishes to rebel against it as he does. Whereas Winston is restless, fatalistic, and concerned about large-scale social issues, Julia is sensual, pragmatic, and generally content to live in the moment and make the best of her life. Winston longs to join the Brotherhood and read Emmanuel Goldstein‘s abstract manifesto; Julia is more concerned with enjoying sex and making practical plans to avoid getting caught by the Party. Winston essentially sees their affair as temporary; his fatalistic attitude makes him unable to imagine his relationship with Julia lasting very long. Julia, on the other hand, is well adapted to her chosen forms of small- scale rebellion. She claims to have had affairs with various Party members, and has no intention of terminating her pleasure seeking, or of being caught (her involvement with Winston is what leads to her capture). Julia is a striking contrast to Winston: apart from their mutual sexual desire and hatred of the Party, most of their traits are dissimilar, if not contradictory.  O‘Brien - One of the most fascinating aspects of 1984 is the manner in which Orwell shrouds an explicit portrayal of a totalitarian world in an enigmatic aura. While Orwell gives the reader a close look into the personal life of Winston Smith, the reader‘s only glimpses of Party life are those that Winston himself catches. As a result, many of the Party‘s inner workings remain unexplained, as do its origins, and the identities and motivations of its leaders. This sense of mystery is centralized in the character of O‘Brien, a powerful member of the Inner Party who tricks Winston into believing that he is a member of the revolutionary group called the Brotherhood. O‘Brien inducts Winston into the Brotherhood. Later, though, he appears at Winston‘s jail cell to abuse and brainwash him in the name of the Party. During the process of this punishment, and perhaps as an act of psychological torture, O‘Brien admits that he pretended to be connected to the Brotherhood merely to trap Winston in an act of open disloyalty to the Party. This revelation raises more questions about O‘Brien than it answers. Rather than developing as a character throughout the novel, O‘Brien actually seems to un-develop: by the end of the book, the reader knows far less about him than they previously had thought. When Winston asks O‘Brien if he too has been captured by the Party, O‘Brien replies, ―They got me long ago.‖ This reply could signify that O‘Brien himself was once rebellious, only to be tortured into passive acceptance of the Party. One can also argue that O‘Brien pretends to sympathize with Winston merely to gain his trust. Similarly, one cannot be sure whether the Brotherhood actually exists, or if it is simply a Party invention used to trap the disloyal and give the rest of the populace a common enemy. The novel does not answer these questions, but rather leaves O‘Brien as a shadowy, symbolic enigma on the fringes of the even more obscure Inner Party Themes  The Dangers of Totalitarianism In 1984, Orwell portrays the perfect totalitarian society, the most extreme realization imaginable of a modern-day government with absolute power. The title of the novel was meant to indicate to its readers in 1949 that the story represented a real possibility for the near future: if totalitarianism were not opposed, the title suggested, some variation of the world described in the novel could become a reality in only thirty-five years. Orwell portrays a state in which government monitors and controls every aspect of human life to the extent that even having a disloyal thought is against the law. As the novel progresses, the timidly rebellious Winston Smith sets out to challenge the limits of the Party‘s power, only to discover that its ability to control and enslave its subjects dwarfs even his most paranoid conceptions of its reach. As the reader comes to understand through Winston‘s eyes, The Party uses a number of techniques to control its citizens  Psychological manipulations The Party barrages its subjects with psychological stimuli designed to overwhelm the mind‘s capacity for independent thought. The giant telescreen in every citizen‘s room blasts a constant stream of propaganda designed to make the failures and shortcomings of the Party appear to be triumphant successes. The telescreens also monitor behavior—everywhere they go, citizens are continuously reminded, especially by means of the omnipresent signs reading ―BIG BROTHER IS WATCHING YOU,‖ that the authorities are scrutinizing them. The Party undermines family structure by inducting children into an organization called the Junior Spies, which brainwashes and encourages them to spy on their parents and report any instance of disloyalty to the Party. The Party also forces individuals to suppress their sexual desires, treating sex as merely a procreative duty whose end is the creation of new Party members. The Party then channels people‘s pent-up frustration and emotion into intense, ferocious displays of hatred against the Party‘s political enemies. Many of these enemies have been invented by the Party expressly for this purpose  Physical control In addition to manipulating their minds, the Party also controls the bodies of its subjects. The Party constantly watches for any sign of disloyalty, to the point that, as Winston observes, even a tiny facial twitch could lead to an arrest. A person‘s own nervous system becomes his greatest enemy. The Party forces its members to undergo mass morning exercises called the Physical Jerks, and then to work long, grueling days at government agencies, keeping people in a general state of exhaustion. Anyone who does manage to defy the Party is punished and ―reeducated‖ through systematic and brutal torture. After being subjected to weeks of this intense treatment, Winston himself comes to the conclusion that nothing is more powerful than physical pain—no emotional loyalty or moral conviction can overcome it. By conditioning the minds of their victims with physical torture, the Party is able to control reality, convincing its subjects that 2 + 2 = 5  Control of information and history The Party controls every source of information, managing and rewriting the content of all newspapers and histories for its own ends. The Party does not allow individuals to keep records of their past, such as photographs or documents. As a result, memories become fuzzy and unreliable, and citizens become perfectly willing to believe whatever the Party tells them. By controlling the present, the Party is able to manipulate the past. And in controlling the past, the Party can justify all of its actions in the present  Technology By means of telescreens and hidden microphones across the city, the Party is able to monitor its members almost all of the time. Additionally, the Party employs complicated mechanisms (1984 was written in the era before computers) to exert large-scale control on economic production and sources of information, and fearsome machinery to inflict torture upon those it deems enemies. 1984 reveals that technology, which is generally perceived as working toward moral good, can also facilitate the most diabolical evil  Language as mind control  One of Orwell‘s most important messages in 1984 is that language is of central importance to human thought because it structures and limits the ideas that individuals are capable of formulating and expressing. If control of language were centralized in a political agency, Orwell proposes, such an agency could possibly alter the very structure of language to make it impossible to even conceive of disobedient or rebellious thoughts, because there would be no words with which to think them. This idea manifests itself in the language of Newspeak, which the Party has introduced to replace English. The Party is constantly refining and perfecting Newspeak, with the ultimate goal that no one will be capable of conceptualizing anything that might question the Party‘s absolute power. Interestingly, many of Orwell‘s ideas about language as a controlling force have been modified by writers and critics seeking to deal with the legacy of colonialism. During colonial times, foreign powers took political and military control of distant regions and, as a part of their occupation, instituted their own language as the language of government and business. Postcolonial writers often analyze or redress the damage done to local populations by the loss of language and the attendant loss of culture and historical connection Motifs  Doublethink The idea of ―doublethink‖ emerges as an important consequence of the Party‘s massive campaign of large-scale psychological manipulation. Simply put, doublethink is the ability to hold two contradictory ideas in one‘s mind at the same time. As the Party‘s mind-control techniques break down an individual‘s capacity for independent thought, it becomes possible for that individual to believe anything that the Party tells them, even while possessing information that runs counter to what they are being told. At the Hate Week rally, for instance, the Party shifts its diplomatic allegiance, so the nation it has been at war with suddenly becomes its ally, and its former ally becomes its new enemy. When the Party speaker suddenly changes the nation he refers to as an enemy in the middle of his speech, the crowd accepts his words immediately, and is ashamed to find that it has made the wrong signs for the event. In the same way, people are able to accept the Party ministries‘ names, though they contradict their functions: the Ministry of Plenty oversees economic shortages, the Ministry of Peace wages war, the Ministry of Truth conducts propaganda and historical revisionism, and the Ministry of Love is the center of the Party‘s operations of torture and punishment  Urban decay Urban decay proves a pervasive motif in 1984. The London that Winston Smith calls home is a dilapidated, rundown city in which buildings are crumbling, conveniences such as elevators never work, and necessities such as electricity and plumbing are extremely unreliable. Though Orwell never discusses the theme openly, it is clear that the shoddy disintegration of London, just like the widespread hunger and poverty of its inhabitants, is due to the Party‘s mismanagement and incompetence. One of the themes of 1984, inspired by the history of twentieth-century communism, is that totalitarian regimes are viciously effective at enhancing their own power and miserably incompetent at providing for their citizens. The grimy urban decay in London is an important visual reminder of this idea, and offers insight into the Party‘s priorities through its contrast to the immense technology the Party develops to spy on its citizens Symbols  Big brother Throughout London, Winston sees posters showing a man gazing down over the words ―BIG BROTHER IS WATCHING YOU‖ everywhere he goes. Big Brother is the face of the Party. The citizens are told that he is the leader of the nation and the head of the Party, but Winston can never determine whether or not he actually exists. In any case, the face of Big Brother symbolizes the Party in its public manifestation; he is a reassurance to most people (the warmth of his name suggests his ability to protect), but he is also an open threat (one cannot escape his gaze). Big Brother also symbolizes the vagueness with which the higher ranks of the Party present themselves—it is impossible to know who really rules Oceania, what life is like for the rulers, or why they act as they do. Winston thinks he remembers that Big Brother emerged around 1960, but the Party‘s official records date Big Brother‘s existence back to 1930, before Winston was even born  The glass of paperweight and St. Clements‘s Church By deliberately weakening people‘s memories and flooding their minds with propaganda, the Party is able to replace individuals‘ memories with its own version of the truth. It becomes nearly impossible for people to question the Party‘s power in the present when they accept what the Party tells them about the past—that the Party arose to protect them from bloated, oppressive capitalists, and that the world was far uglier and harsher before the Party came to power. Winston vaguely understands this principle. He struggles to recover his own memories and formulate a larger picture of what has happened to the world. Winston buys a paperweight in an antique store in the prole district that comes to symbolize his attempt to reconnect with the past. Symbolically, when the Thought Police arrest Winston at last, the paperweight shatters on the floor. The old picture of St. Clement‘s Church in the room that Winston rents above Mr. Charrington‘s shop is another representation of the lost past. Winston associates a song with the picture that ends with the words ―Here comes the chopper to chop off your head!‖This is an important foreshadow, as it is the telescreen hidden behind the picture that ultimately leads the Thought Police to Winston, symbolizing the Party‘s corrupt control of the past  The place where there is no darkness Throughout the novel Winston imagines meeting O‘Brien in ―the place where there is no darkness.‖ The words first come to him in a dream, and he ponders them for the rest of the novel. Eventually, Winston does meet O‘Brien in the place where there is no darkness; instead of being the paradise Winston imagined, it is merely a prison cell in which the light is never turned off. The idea of ―the place where there is no darkness‖ symbolizes Winston‘s approach to the future: possibly because of his intense fatalism (he believes that he is doomed no matter what he does), he unwisely allows himself to trust O‘Brien, even though inwardly he senses that O‘Brien might be a Party operative.  The telescreens The omnipresent telescreens are the book‘s most visible symbol of the Party‘s constant monitoring of its subjects. In their dual capability to blare constant propaganda and observe citizens, the telescreens also symbolize how totalitarian government abuses technology for its own ends instead of exploiting its knowledge to improve civilization  The red armed prole women The red-armed prole woman whom Winston hears singing through the window represents Winston‘s one legitimate hope for the long-term future: the possibility that the proles will eventually come to recognize their plight and rebel against the Party. Winston sees the prole woman as a prime example of reproductive virility; he often imagines her giving birth to the future generations that will finally challenge the Party‘s authority Plot overview Winston Smith is a low-ranking member of the ruling Party in London, in the nation of Oceania. Everywhere Winston goes, even his own home, the Party watches him through telescreens; everywhere he looks he sees the face of the Party‘s seemingly omniscient leader, a figure known only as Big Brother. The Party controls everything in Oceania, even the people‘s history and language. Currently, the Party is forcing the implementation of an invented language called Newspeak, which attempts to prevent political rebellion by eliminating all words related to it. Even thinking rebellious thoughts is illegal. Such thoughtcrime is, in fact, the worst of all crimes As the novel opens, Winston feels frustrated by the oppression and rigid control of the Party, which prohibits free thought, sex, and any expression of individuality. Winston dislikes the party and has illegally purchased a diary in which to write his criminal thoughts. He has also become fixated on a powerful Party member named O‘Brien, whom Winston believes is a secret member of the Brotherhood—the mysterious, legendary group that works to overthrow the Party. Winston works in the Ministry of Truth, where he alters historical records to fit the needs of the Party. He notices a coworker, a beautiful dark-haired girl, staring at him, and worries that she is an informant who will turn him in for his thoughtcrime. He is troubled by the Party‘s control of history: the Party claims that Oceania has always been allied with Eastasia in a war against Eurasia, but Winston seems to recall a time when this was not true. The Party also claims that Emmanuel Goldstein, the alleged leader of the Brotherhood, is the most dangerous man alive, but this does not seem plausible to Winston. Winston spends his evenings wandering through the poorest neighborhoods in London, where the proletarians, or proles, live squalid lives, relatively free of Party monitoring. One day, Winston receives a note from the dark-haired girl that reads ―I love you.‖ She tells him her name, Julia, and they begin a covert affair, always on the lookout for signs of Party monitoring. Eventually they rent a room above the secondhand store in the prole district where Winston bought the diary. This relationship lasts for some time. Winston is sure that they will be caught and punished sooner or later (the fatalistic Winston knows that he has been doomed since he wrote his first diary entry), while Julia is more pragmatic and optimistic. As Winston‘s affair with Julia progresses, his hatred for the Party grows more and more intense. At last, he receives the message that he has been waiting for: O‘Brien wants to see him. Winston and Julia travel to O‘Brien‘s luxurious apartment. As a member of the powerful Inner Party (Winston belongs to the Outer Party), O‘Brien leads a life of luxury that Winston can only imagine. O‘Brien confirms to Winston and Julia that, like them, he hates the Party, and says that he works against it as a member of the Brotherhood. He indoctrinates Winston and Julia into the Brotherhood, and gives Winston a copy of Emmanuel Goldstein‘s book, the manifesto of the Brotherhood. Winston reads the book—an amalgam of several forms of class-based twentieth-century social theory—to Julia in the room above the store. Suddenly, soldiers barge in and seize them. Mr. Charrington, the proprietor of the store, is revealed as having been a member of the Thought Police all along. Torn away from Julia and taken to a place called the Ministry of Love, Winston finds that O‘Brien, too, is a Party spy who simply pretended to be a member of the Brotherhood in order to trap Winston into committing an open act of rebellion against the Party. O‘Brien spends months torturing and brainwashing Winston, who struggles to resist. At last, O‘Brien sends him to the dreaded Room 101, the final destination for anyone who opposes the Party. Here, O‘Brien tells Winston that he will be forced to confront his worst fear. Throughout the novel, Winston has had recurring nightmares about rats; O‘Brien now straps a cage full of rats onto Winston‘s head and prepares to allow the rats to eat his face. Winston snaps, pleading with O‘Brien to do it to Julia, not to him Giving up Julia is what O‘Brien wanted from Winston all along. His spirit broken, Winston is released to the outside world. He meets Julia but no longer feels anything for her. He has accepted the Party entirely and has learned to love Big Brother Thesis statement 1: Thesis Statement / Essay Topic #1: The Forced Repression of Natural Impulses in 1984 Nearly every aspect of the society presented in 1984 by George Orwell is controlled, including the most natural impulses of sex and love. The suppression of these innate urges is encouraged through a program instituted by various forms of media in society in 1984 by George Orwell that propagates mistrust so severe that even mothers and fathers cannot trust their own offspring—another supposedly natural bond and impulse. Throughout the novel there are many examples of oppression of natural reactions and they cause a number of problems, not just for the main characters, but for the society at large. For this essay, you could provide detailed examples of how natural impulses are stifled and what consequences there are. Thesis Statement / Essay Topic #2: The Lack of Privacy and The Effect of No Individualism Personal privacy and space is never granted throughout 1984. Every person is always subject to observation, even by their own family members and friends. Furthermore, since Big Brother is always watching and the Thought Police are always on the lookout, it is impossible for any kind of individualism to flourish. For this essay you can look at the ways this occurs and how various characters attempt (successfully or not) to subvert it. Then move out to consider how this lack of privacy (and by proxy, individualism) influences individuals and society as a whole. Thesis Statement / Essay Topic #3: The Role and Representation of Women in 1984 Although it‘s often considered to be an ―easy‖ topic choice for a paper, examining the role of women would make for an excellent essay, especially since many of things that make women what they are in many novels (adhering to ideas of romantic love, sex, femininity, marriage, etc) are subverted by the totalitarian society. For this essay, look at the depictions of women, keeping in mind such issues as the Junior Anti-Sex League, Winston‘s Wife who is the ―human soundtrack,‖ and others. All of the women or groups of women presented offer a very twisted view of all of the things typically associated with women in literature. Look at why this is and offer numerous examples. Thesis Statement / Essay Topic #4: The Power of Words and Rhetoric in 1984 Rhetoric, words, and language have enormous power in this society. Consider the phrase, ―War is Peace, Freedom is Slavery, and Ignorance is Strength‖ as well as the fact that the state of war and who it is with is constantly shifting. In this society (much like ours) reality is based on information and Orwell‘s novel, the information is all related by words. The power of language in this novel (just as in Animal Farm, another novel by George Orwell) is one of the most potent forces that exists and as a result, the state goes through great lengths to influence and control language. For this essay, find a number of examples of contradictory, misleading, or otherwise bad rhetoric and how it is used to manipulate the population. A good essay might include three examples and then use one paragraph for each to fully pick apart the language and discuss the effects it has. Thesis Statement / Essay Topic #5: 1984 in Historical Context: How Current Events Shaped the Themes in the Novel In some cases, it is not always feasible or worth it to consider too heavily the time period during which a novel was written. This is not the case in 1984. In fact, the historical context is of the utmost importance as the threat of totalitarianism, fascism, and domination based on skilled rhetoric was at the forefront of public fears during Orwell‘s time. Written in 1949, 1984 reflects the period as fascist empires were growing and the effects of others were becoming more clear with each passing day, such as was the case Germany. For this essay, make sure you include some biographical information about Orwell and what he witnessed during his lifetime and make reference to the many fascist regimes that are reflected in the novel Waiting for Godot Valdimir - Vladimir is most easily distinguished from Estragon by his somewhat more elevated perception and intellect. While Estragon laments his physical limitations, Vladimir can be found musing over the struggle in which he is trapped. He enjoys discourse about mental and emotional dilemmas, occasionally referring to his limited memories of the Bible in an attempt to make sense of his life. He is pragmatic and philosophical in regards to the troubles that plague he and Estragon. He exercises almost absolute control over Estragon and asserts his supremacy very subtly. When Estragon is beaten for the second time and blames Vladimir for not saving him, Vladimir responds that if Estragon was beaten, it was because he had done something to deserve it. He further admits that if he had been around, he would have kept Estragon from doing that bad thing, and therefore saved him from his beating. In a sense, he takes responsibility for being Estragon's conscience. He is confident that without him, Estragon's existence is incomplete. Even in his position of limited superiority, Vladimir asserts his dependence on Estragon, saying "You're my only hope" and fearing that a suicide attempt would leave one of them aloneMost of the aphorisms and sagacious sayings emanate from Vladimir. One such question is at the end of Act II, when Pozzo and Lucky are leaving - "Where do you go from here?" He is actually questioning the existence of Pozzo and Lucky and their approach to life, an inquiry at
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